Saturday, February 19, 2011

You've Got Mail

If someone were to ask me what the worst invention in history was, you would think that I’d say, “Maybe the atomic bomb?” Or Crocs shoes, perhaps. Or economy class cabins. Or you might even think I’d nominate toy poodles, like the kind Paris Hilton swings around in her Birkin.

But you’d be wrong, Ryan Seacrest! Because in my books, the worse invention in history is e-mail.

Now, I know what everyone’s thinking. “Is he crazy? E-mail? My God, how would we communicate?”

But, you see, that’s precisely my point. We communicate too much these days. And sometimes, we’re forced to communicate even if it’s the last thing we want to do.

The other day, I wrote an e-mail to a PR gal asking for a picture of a restaurant that she was representing.

She wrote back and asked me how many images I wanted and cc’d three other people in her office and her client.

I replied to her, carefully avoiding the ‘Reply all’ button, saying that I just wanted an interior shot and a picture of their hamburger.

She replied, again cc’ing the original four people plus her boss, that this wouldn’t be a problem and to thank me for my support.

Which should have been the end of the matter, except that her boss then replied to her – cc’ing the three people in the PR office, the client and me and his secretary – asking her to double check with the photographer if there were any new images besides the ones that they already had.

Which she duly did, cc’ing everyone already in the e-mail thread and this time adding the photographer and his assistant.

“Isn’t that like 30 emails just to ask for a picture of a hamburger?” Saffy asked later that evening when I told her how my day had gone.

“Yes!” I moaned. “And it was all so incredibly pointless! It wasn’t like I was asking her for the equation to cure cancer! That stupid thread took me half an hour to get through! And the other three people in her office didn’t even say anything, but they must have also received the 15mB attachments from the photographer because he cc’d everybody, including his office manager and his business partner!”

After I’d finally received the pictures from the PR girl and I’d sent them to my magazine’s photo editor, all I could think of was that it must have been a slow day in Hell when someone decided to invent e-mail.

The thing about e-mail is that it’s made communication so easy and, now, people just want to communicate all the time. About anything. Things that once were thought about and carefully mulled over before being committed to a blank piece of paper and then posted are now dashed off in seconds. Hit ‘Enter’ and it suddenly, mysteriously, instantaneously lands in someone’s electronic in-box.

And because it’s done so quickly, you think, “Oh, I should send an email to someone else!” And before you know it, the day is over and everyone has gone home. Except you. You and the person on the other end of the e-mail thread. He’s determined to be the last one standing in this electronic stand-off. Because there’s always something more to be said, even if it’s just a stupid smiley emoticon.

Because when it comes to office email, these same people also want to make sure that as many people as humanly possible know that they’re working just so that they look like they’re super busy and efficient. E-mails and the cc function are the new time-sheet.

“Oh, God, don’t get me started,” Saffy said. “People are just generally lazy and trying to cover their not so pretty asses. My hardcopy back up files are thicker than a phone-book.”

But the flipside is that if anything goes wrong, it’s all there in a nice, long e-mail thread. And worse, it’s been cc’d here and there so many times, that it makes everyone look like a complete idiot.

“If only I could publish my in-box,” Saffy said. “It’s like Corporate Wikileaks!”

Amanda says this is why she never sends e-mails unless it’s to forward a joke. “I always just pick up the phone and deal with it right there and then. That photo request of yours would have taken 30 seconds to sort out! And you leave the minimum paper-trail to incriminate you later!”

“But sometimes I don’t want to talk to them!”

“Then you call them during the lunch hour when they’re not around and leave a message!”

Saffy says it sickens her that Amanda is so clever.

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